Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin was an empire builder and rancher who carved cities out of range land, made millions in mining stocks, and built everything from hotels to vineyards from Lake Tahoe and San Francisco to Southern California.
Elias Jackson Baldwin was born April 3, 1828, in Hamilton County, Ohio. Moving to northwestern Indiana in 1834, young Elias grew up in a farming family. A year at Wabash College in Crawfordsville completed his formal education, and shortly thereafter Elias, and neighbor Sarah Ann Unruh were married.
Greener pastures were found in New Buffalo, Indiana, where Baldwin opened a general store and hotel.. Racine, Wisconsin, was the last of the Baldwin’s eastern moves, and it was from there that Elias, Sarah Ann, and Clara began their wagon train journey to California in 1853.
A story that illustrates E. J. Baldwin business skills was how he set out from Racine, Wisconsin with four wagons, two of them loaded with spare wagon parts, brandy, tobacco, and tea for trading. At Council Bluffs, they joined a larger train and proceeded without undue incident to Salt Lake, where a trader purchased Baldwin’s tobacco and tea, and the brother of Brigham Young bought the brandy at $16 a gallon.
Other men jettisoned family heirlooms while crossing the plains; Elias Baldwin claimed a $3000 to $4000 profit on his Salt Lake sales, then reinvested part of his earnings in horses that he later sold to Sacramento buyers at a 400 percent markup. Baldwin more than doubled his Wisconsin capital while crossing the plains.
He looked to the future needs of potential customers and used the cross country trek as an opportunity for profit while others only saw an ordeal to be overcome. Baldwin looked at the world in a different way, and profited from the vision.